Commentary

SmartSweets Low-Sugar Conquest

 

 

SmartSweets, a candy brand aimed at young women who want more candy but less sugar, keeps freshening its line-up. With new flavors like Barbie Pink Lemonade Dream and Tropical Sours and new recipe formulations, the $125 million brand has put better-for-you candy on the shelves of more than 50,000 stores. Heidi Dorosin, co-chief executive officer, tells CPG Insider what’s driving the brand’s brick-and-mortar success.

CPG Insider: Let’s start with the brand’s history. How did it begin?

Heidi Dorosin: Tara Bosch founded the company in 2016. She dropped out of college to start SmartSweets because she was a self-proclaimed candy addict. When she found out how much sugar was in it, she started to feel bad – she wanted to find a way to eat plenty of candy as she wanted but not feel guilty about the sugar. So, she invented it herself. The company is on a mission to let consumers keep all the childhood joy of candy without excessive sugar. Everything we do is about kicking sugar out but keeping the good stuff.

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CPG Insider: How do you take the sugar out of candy?

Dorosin: It’s not easy. And we’re the original. There have long been sugar-free candies, but they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners. We're the first low-sugar candy without those ingredients. Since we started, some copycats have emerged. But we’ve been perfecting our formula since 2016. Our branding is unique, too.

CPG Insider: How so?

Dorosin: We have very passionate and loyal customers. We talk to them daily and get feedback on product decisions. We’ve got about 600,000 followers on Instagram and are now in about 50,000 stores, including Target, Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Albertsons, and more. We want to be where people buy candy, and that is in brick-and-mortar stores. Our long-term goal is to revolutionize candy and keep growing. We don’t want just to be the best “better for you” candy. We want to be the best candy, period.

CPG Insider: How do you describe the brand to people who don’t know it yet?

Dorosin: We are fun and fruity. We want people to experience joy. We’re very bright, very colorful. We are not a little white bag with many product claims on it. We have all the playfulness you would expect from a full-sugar, traditional candy brand. We want people to experience childhood joy and glee.


CPG Insider: Yet you’re aimed at adults, right?

Dorosin: Our consumer is primarily adult, and we lean slightly younger than the average candy buyer. Our customer average is roughly 30, compared to 40. And we are aimed at a primarily female target. There is an opportunity to go into the kids’ lunchbox space. But to date, we are mainly an adult treat candy snack. Our bags are single serving sizes, giving people portion control. It’s a 50-gram bag with just three grams of sugar.

CPG Insider: Why no chocolate? Many people would say that is the top candy craving of women.

Dorosin: We are always exploring, including chocolate. That is all I can share now, but you should expect SmartSweets to enter other segments, just as we will continue to expand our rainbow of flavors – we’ve added four this year. Newness is part of our strategy.

CPG Insider: Who dreams up the flavors?

Dorosin: We have an internal product and innovation team and work with outside partners to help with formulations. We call it the Candyland Kitchen. We also do lots of testing with consumers.

CPG Insider: Can you say more about newness? Many assume that once a new brand has made it into retail, it can coast. Yet you think constant newness is required. What’s the cadence?

Dorosin: It's busy. I come from beauty, and candy is like cosmetics in that the first question consumers ask, even diehard fans, is, “What’s new?” They have favorites, like Sweet Fish, but they want to try something different and fresh. That is the reality of the candy category. We’ve got product innovation going on all the time – new flavors, new products. We’re also pushing the envelope on existing items' performance, taste and texture. We just launched an improvement to our base formula, for example. It's a constant journey.

CPG Insider: How do you describe your marketing strategy?

Dorosin: We lean into our community of fans. There are many levels of that. First, we’re a socially native brand, talking to people daily on those channels. We also have a group of micro-influencers called our Kick Sugar Crew. We send them samples and are fortunate enough to have them post about it. We also partner with bigger influencers and have been very successful – and lucky that celebrities have posted about us in an organic way without us having to pay them. We’re trying new things, too, including our first-ever candy truck, hitting various locations in Los Angeles and giving away samples. We want consumers to try our new and improved formula.

CPG Insider: What’s your brand awareness like?

Dorosin: Low. Traditional candy brands have more than 90% awareness. We’re at roughly 25%, so we still have a way to go.

CPG Insider: How do you develop campaigns with different retailers?

Dorosin: We create programs that speak to their specific shopper. In the case of Target, for example, it’s a retailer that loves innovation. They cater to a slightly more affluent demographic and understand that if people buy SmartSweets, they can eat more candy and expand their category. It has been cutting edge with us. It treated us like a mainline candy brand. Then, when Target saw we were growing the category, it also put us in the checkout lanes.

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